I've never GMed at a convention before and I was very nervous beforehand. I only signed up to run three events, two games of Apocalypse World (which were identical) and one game of Dungeon Crawl Classics. I think if I do this again next year each game I run will be different because the first game only sold 1 ticket and so I cancelled it. The second game only sold two tickets, but I had a friend at the con who said he had some time to kill and he purchased a ticket and became a third player. The final game, DCC RPG, only sold 2 tickets, but given the nature of that game's zero-level character funnel I made it work with only 2 players.
Here are the events I ran, along with their descriptions:
Apocalypse World: what's the name of this town?
An introduction to the Apocalypse World rules and suitable for anybody new to the game. Players will quickly make characters, help define NPCs for the setting, and then play through a number of scenes where outside forces try to tear down or destroy the community they live in. Apocalypse World is a game about dwindling resources, filled with territorial warlords, grotesque mutants, decaying environments, and brutish savages. What you do is who you are in Apocalypse World. So what are you going to do?
I've run this one-shot a few times now, and I always think of ways I could improve it. Every time I run this game something unique happens that simply cannot be prepared or accounted for. We had a Chopper, a Brainer, and a Savvyhead, and they managed to track down and eliminate most of the threats I have loaded into the love letters. This was the first time players formed a link between two of my threats which doesn't actually exist, and it was the only time the players found out about the big bad secret of their hometown without having any immediate moral quandaries about it. The game we played was grim and filled with blood. The apocalypse? Oh, you're soaking in it!
I found myself asking leading questions a lot and had to keep stopping myself in mid sentence in order to rephrase what I was asking. I also noticed that I've stopped describing the minutia of rules, one player asked about stats and I glossed over them by explaining the dice mechanic and handing out the basic moves playbook. I'm not sure if this a good habit to start getting into, but the newbies seemed to pick up the game really quick and fell into their characters with little or no hesitation. There was a spectacular gun battle which I had a lot of fun "announcing future badness" with. It was a real blast getting to see a Chopper in action from the other side of the table, but I feel like I fell short since I never went into a lot of detail about his gang.
Overall, I think I'm getting considerably better at bringing conflict into the center stage even if I have lost my subtlety in the process.
Dungeon Crawl Classics: Let's Kill a Giant
An introduction to Dungeon Crawl Classics. Players will get to choose from a stable of pre-generated characters and play in a brief adventure where their characters will explore a dungeon and attempt to slay the giant that is terrorizing their village, or die trying. Dungeon Crawl Classics is a streamlined version of 3rd edition D&D that pays homage to the literature listed in 1st edition AD&D's Appendix N. It emphasizes combat that is brutal, magic that is mysterious, and a world that is unforgivably deadly.
This game I was the most nervous about. I used information about a wizard lair from one low-level module and I took a simple cave map and it's denizens from another low-level module and combined them together to form a pretty straight forward 0-level adventure that involved killing a sleeping giant. There are lots of notes and charts and tables involved in a DCC game, so having an index readily available would have speeded things up, but I had a secret passage that I was not very well-prepared to use any of and of course the players found it before anything else. I don't think they noticed though.
After running Dungeon Crawl Classics side by side with Apocalypse World, I'm even more convinced that story-games and OSR go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The cardinal rule of GMing that I think I've learned from games like Apocalypse World is that a success should not have immediate downsides and a failure should create complications. However, I didn't want to deviate from the rules of DCC RPG but whenever I did I let the players know that I was doing something different from how the rulebook was written, like allowing them to use pages in a spellbook like casting from a scroll.
They were really inventive too! They got attacked by a summoned chimera and thought luring it into a cage they had opened might be the best way to simply contain it so they wouldn't have to fight it. One person lost their life getting the creature trapped, but otherwise it worked. We had two additional players who sat and joined the table for about an hour just to get a feel for the game. In the end, they succeeded in slaying the giant and the survivors came away rich.
The whole con was a lot of fun, and GMing was a real learning experience. I'll probably do it again next year.